The NC500 is so much more than just a road trip. It is 516 miles of picture-perfect villages, wildlife, and awe-inspiring landscapes. There are so many fun activities you can do all the way around the route. This guide takes you through everything there is to do and see on the EAST COAST of the NC500.
The east coast of Scotland is often overlooked and overshadowed by the beauty of the west coast when doing the NC500. It is extremely underrated – there are fewer crowds, stunning beaches, and even spectacular castles – what more could you want?
Creating an itinerary for the NC500 is strongly advised so you don’t miss any of the best sights! To help with planning your trip, we have split up the NC500 into manageable chunks: North, East, South, and West, and showcased the highlights from each!
The attractions have been listed in geographical order (if you are doing the NC500 anti-clockwise).
Although Loch Ness isn’t necessarily on the official NC500 route, it is certainly worth the detour. The loch is located slightly southwest of the official start point in Inverness. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for the infamous and elusive Loch Ness monster, Nessie!!
Fun Facts: Loch Ness has the largest volume of any body of water in the UK. In fact, it holds more water than any lake, river, or reservoir, in England and Wales combined!! That’s a LOT of water
There are many other attractions around the loch such as walking trails and water sports. Check out the official website here for more info on activities.
The NC500 Begins and ends in the heart of Inverness – the Castle to be exact. Start off your journey with a bang and go inside the castle. Visit the viewpoint for uninterrupted panoramic views of Inverness (the Cultural Capital of the Highlands). This excursion costs £6.
Inverness is the perfect place to fuel up and pick up any supplies you need for the journey as it can be quite tricky to find shops on the NC500 route. Once you leave Inverness, the next best place to replenish you food cupboards is in Wick (104 miles away).
A short drive north-east of Inverness you will find Chanonry Point. This is a peninsula jutting into the Moray Firth between Fortrose and Rosemarkie.
This is one of the best places in Scotland to see dolphins. However, with every wildlife experience, patience is key. The best time to see dolphins is 1-2 hours before high tide.
Take a dip in one of the countless white sandy beaches that line the east coast.
There are plenty of gorgeous beaches along the east coast of the NC500. We recommend the beaches at Balintore, Rosemarkie, and Embo. Unlike the popular west coast beaches, the east coast beaches are quieter and you may even find that you have it all to yourself!
We visited in late May / early June and most of the beaches were empty.
We recommend staying overnight in Balintore, as the park up looks right onto the beach. To find out more click below.
Tain has a lot of history, this is reflected in its quaint “oldy-worldly” architecture. To learn more about the history of Tain and the surrounding area, check out the local museum ‘Tain Through Time’.
Note: try to avoid visiting Tain on a Sunday as everything will be closed.
Skelbo, Loch Fleet
The NC500 route actually drives right over this loch but many people miss out on its true potential. There is an amazing parking area/viewpoint in Skelbo that sits right on the edge of the loch.
At low tide, seals bask on sandbanks a mere 30-meters from where you are parked. For the best view, you may wish to bring binoculars.
There are also the ruins of a castle that can be to explored. It is a 5-minute walk from the viewpoint.
This area is very popular with campervans so we would recommend getting there early e.g. high tide, to secure your spot (there is space for around 10 vans in the area).
We recommend parking here overnight for a unique wildlife experience and a peaceful sleep. To find out more click the link below.
Dunrobin Castle should definitely be on everybody’s NC500 itinerary and Scottish bucket list! This castle resembles a romantic French chateau. This mesmerizing castle is one of the oldest in Britain, and it certainly would not look out of place in a Disney movie! The perfectly groomed gardens only add to the beauty of the castle. This was our favorite stop on the east coast of the NC500.
Admission costs £11.50. You can stroll through the castle, the gardens, and the lesser-known museum packed with taxidermy. There are also 2 falconry shows every day included in the price of admission. We recommend visiting in the afternoon as it’s considerably quieter – therefore fewer randomers lurking in the back of your photographs!
Whaligoe Steps get their name from a dead whale that washed ashore in the rocky bay. Originally used as a harbour for fishing vessels, it is now simply another tourist attraction with a fascinating history.
365 stairs zig-zag down the face of the cliff leading to a flat area known as the bink. Care should be taken if you venture down the steps as they are steep and can be slippery when wet.
If you are lucky, a friendly local, Davey, will be more than happy to share the rich history of the steps.
There is parking for around 5 vehicles.
One of the main towns on the NC500 route is Wick. This small town in Caithness has a few attractions which may tickle your fancy. You can go whiskey tasting at the Old Pulteney distillery, explore the coastline by speedboat, and even visit the world’s shortest street. That being said we found the town itself a little disappointing with very few dining options.
Wick is a great place to stock up on supplies – possibly the best on the east coast of the NC500 (with the exception of Inverness). You will find several shops here including Lidls and Tesco. There is also a petrol station.
If you are looking for somewhere to park overnight in Wick (with a 10/10 view) then click the link below!
John O’ Groats
John O’ Groats is a staple destination when doing the NC500. But did you know that it’s NOT the most northerly point in the UK – Dunnet head is.
This iconic location is a great place to visit to get your obligatory photo with the famous signpost and perhaps pick up a souvenir from your trip. It’s also a great place to send postcards from as they will have the signature John o’ Groats postmark.
There is a large car park in John O’ Groats that is constantly busy. People are constantly coming and going from this place so you’ll eventually sneak in.
The east coast leg of the NC500 doesn’t get nearly enough praise! It is stunning, historically fascinating, and a lot of fun. When planning an itinerary for the NC500, make sure you allocate at least 2 days to the east of Scotland. For reference, we spent 4 days exploring the east coast and loved every second!
Driving (or cycling) the NC500 will truly make you fall in love with the Scottish Highlands. Every day of our trip was filled with excitement and wonder.
More content about the NC500 coming soon!
If you have any questions regarding the West coast of the NC500 or just the NC500 in general, don’t hesitate to comment down below and we will get back to you!
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